In the weeks and months following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, thousands of displaced families were given trailers to live in by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These trailers, while welcome shelter for whole communities wracked by natural disaster, turned out to leak formaldehyde in the air at levels up to eleven times the EPA recommended exposure limit. Formaldehyde is a fundamental and inexpensive chemical used in all sorts of building materials. My guess is that the trailers’ small, compact design, combined with poor ventilation and cheap formaldehyde-based components (plywood, carpeting, insulation — even paint) caused the uptick in formaldehyde levels. Also, they aren’t meant to be inhabited for such long periods — some refugees still live in their FEMA trailers today. Nevertheless, despite assurances from FEMA that the risk of formaldehyde was overstated, many refugees began to exhibit persistent flu-like symptoms, breathing difficulties, and eye irritation. The CDC conducted a study and found that 42% of the trailer homes had higher levels than what they recommend for a mere 15-minute exposure. Now imagine sleeping all night in that kind of environment.
Today, following lawsuits alleging fault in providing such poison-inflated housing, more than twenty manufacturers agreed to pay out $14.8 million in settlement to thousands of derelict mobile home denizens. Hopefully this will be some good news for those unfortunate people who are definitely in want of some.